Ebb and Flow

Ebb and Flow

by Sr. Aideen O’Sullivan MMM             Ireland/Scotland            27.10.2022

Here in Ireland, the sea has been in the background of our lives as we are sort of surrounded by it. The tang of the sea readily brings to mind childhood memories of family picnics, the serious business of building sandcastles, the noisy splashing in and out of water with the general feeling that it was all great fun. And, of course, the sun always shone in those days.

As the years of childhood rolled by, we may well have come to view the sea in a different light, a power to be feared, a place not to be alone, or perhaps fear may not have been part of our experience at all. Whatever way it was, one thing is for sure now, our coastline provides us with stretches of space and potential for personal enrichment.

To get in touch with the mystery of the sea one needs first of all to befriend it; to come into relationship with the rhythm of the waves, the ripples in the sand, the voices in the wind, the playfulness of the spray, the rock pools, the driftwood and the shells. Then the ocean depths will begin to yield up its treasures and will begin to reveal something of the mystery of its life.

Such an opportunity presented itself to me in the Spring. A chalet at the end of the tide in the middle of nowhere, with miles of deserted shoreline for company. The song of the waves to lull me to rest and each morning, the sound of the sea for breakfast. As I set out, the weather wasn’t the best, to put it mildly.

I breathed a prayer to the Eternal Artist for the sun to break through and added that a bit of heat would not go unnoticed and would be much appreciated too. I must admit that my faith took a drenching when I arrived at the chalet to be greeted with gales and monstrous waves, boisterously pounding up the beach and threatening to envelop me in one swoop. However, once I had navigated myself safely indoors and had a hot cup of soup, life began to look decidedly better.

Within a few hours the wind dropped. The rain moved away along the coast and the sun, rather apologetically, came to brighten up the scene, bringing with it more than a hint of warmth. It reminded me of the story in St. Mark’s Gospel, Chapter 3, where the Lord calmed the storm for the terrified disciples. They were in a boat, I know; but it is much the same when you’re pent up in a chalet waiting for the next wave to engulf you.

he sea and I settled down after that and by nightfall I was beginning to feel the rhythm of the waves and the restful silence between ebb and flow. It wooed my busy mind into a place of rest and left me with a sense of expectancy. Of what, I didn’t know. I felt different and this difference would somehow reflect itself back to me as I meditated and pondered in the company of the sea. There is something awesome about watching for the dawn, looking out across the ocean expanse, waiting for the sun that would surely rise but which might not show its face.

I walked for miles along the shoreline and there a stone found me. It was half white and half grey. It spoke to me of the paradox of life and death, and the wisdom of it all. This stone seemed to be saying to me “Like the different parts of you are firmly held together, but the Eternal Artist is not finished his creative work in you yet and that is all right”. I put the stone gently into my pocket, and it felt good.
When the sea and its shoreline befriend you, it is important not to search for treasures but rather to wait for the treasure to find you. Greedily searching one could miss its gifts altogether. I fell into that trap myself and almost missed the driftwood that nudged my foot. It was shaped like a hand. When I brought it together with my hand, it stirred my heartstrings. Words from the prophet Isaiah echoed in my heart “I will never forget you. I have carved you in the palms of my hands”. I felt loved.

The morning I bade farewell to the sea, the sunrise was uneventful and spoke to me of the need for contrasts in life. We need the ebb as well as the flow of the tide. I knew that the sun was above the clouds but that was cold comfort. I waited, waited, and looked out to sea. Then to my delight, the clouds parted briefly, and a shaft of bright white light shone across the black waters, transforming them, giving light and holding everything in breathless stillness. It was as though creation paused and rested for a moment. “Be still and know that I am God”. This was my parting gift as I turned and walked away from my friend, the sea.